When Xander Bailey gets back to West Virginia, he will have some stories to tell.
The 18-year-old could barely contain the grin on his face Saturday after he finished signing autographs for the long line of fans after Sounders FC played to a 3-3 draw with Tottenham Hotspur. With 55,349 in attendance at CenturyLink Field and many more watching across the country on ESPN2, friends back home were sure to notice.
“It’s going to be different,” he smiled while thinking of his return home. “It’s going to be a wild experience.”
Bailey signed with Sounders FC on Friday and took part in training with the team at Starfire. However, he was surprised when he arrived at CenturyLink Field on Saturday for the match when Seattle Head Coach Sigi Schmid told him he would be in the starting lineup.
An hour before kickoff, Bailey suited up with his favorite club and started warming up as the seats began to fill. As kickoff drew near, the butterflies in his stomach began churning their wings. By the time things got underway, his nerves had reached a crescendo, but he still was able to shine in the spotlight.
“I was definitely excited,” Bailey said. “I was getting nervous right until I was about to go out there.”
On the opening kickoff, Clint Dempsey touched the ball to Bailey and the two took off undefended up the middle of the field. Bailey then fired a shot from the top of the box that was covered by former U.S. National Team goalkeeper Brad Friedel.
Bailey then left the match as Friedel threw the ball out of play. The 18-year-old West Virginia native was swarmed by his Sounders FC teammates and congratulated by some Tottenham Hotspur starters, as well, before making his way to the bench.
At that moment, he was greeted by exuberant cheers and a call and repeat chant of “Xander! Bailey!” from the crowd at CenturyLink Field.
“That’s something I’ll definitely never forget,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief. “That was crazy. I never expected they’d be chanting my name.”
Bailey repeated again and again how thrilled and honored he was to play with Sounders FC. After the match, Schmid gave clear indication that it was a mutual feeling.
“It’s fantastic. The support from the ownership on down of the Sounders for the Make-A-Wish group and for Xander Bailey - to give him this opportunity is just fantastic,” Schmid said. “I saw the look in his eyes and you could tell he was overwhelmed. He’s so appreciative. It makes for a day that he won’t forget, but our guys won’t forget it either. To be part of that situation is unique and special for us as well.”
Bailey joined Sounders FC in training on Friday from Make-A-Wish Foundation Greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia. He had previously played in the PDL for King’s Warriors reserve team.
Fans at the match waved placards that bore his likeness and others with his No. 45 jersey number under his name. After the match, he signed those cards, as well as custom player cards and jerseys, taking some home to show his friends and family.
“It was wild, man,” Bailey said. “Going out there was an experience I’ll always remember.”